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Going, Going, Forgone

Going, Going, Forgone

Houses of Parliament at dusk

The conclusion’s obvious. Keir Starmer’s headed upstairs. To the flat above Number Ten. And if that makes his kids nervous they’ll just have to get used to it. As our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, the only question is whether he’s won the election or the Tories have lost it. In both senses.

As Labour gallops to the winning post the media narrative’s sounding like horse-racing commentators who talk faster and faster and louder and louder, apparently forgetting they have microphones.

The difference being that while the gee-gees are just doing their stuff, impervious to what’s being said about them, the Conservatives are horribly aware of it.

And as poll after poll tells them they’re toast, their foot soldiers’ morale is curling at the edges.

This flies in the face of Napoleon’s famous contention that if the chaps keep their spirits up they can beat opposing forces three times the size of their own.

But with senior ministers openly siding with Dad’s Army’s Private Frazer, the squaddies can hardly be blamed for accepting that they’re doomed as well.

Fascinating to watch the fist Rishi Sunak’s still valiantly trying to make of it. Perhaps to do with his revelation that faith is his secret weapon.

‘In Hinduism,’ he says, ‘there’s a concept of duty called dharma, which is roughly translated as being about doing your duty and not having a focus on the outcomes of it.’

If the survey suggesting that even he’s going to lose his seat turns out to be right then an almighty consolation prize awaits him.

He’ll be spared the torment of trying to lead an outfit that trades as a broad church but is actually more redolent of a loose confederation of warring tribes.

Even the Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has admitted, in a leaked audio recording, that Conservative defeat will be: ‘Our own stupid fault.’ Stemming, he added, from party infighting.

The no-nonsense former Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson, meanwhile, has an even more colourful way of putting things.

Regarding the scandal of government insiders betting on the election date just before Sunak’s surprise, and rain-drenched, announcement, she said: ‘What an absolute sh*t show.’

Likening what’s been going on to insider trading, she added: ‘I mean, how tawdry is it?’

And a former Tory leader, who’s less linguistically uninhibited but every bit as deadly as Davidson, has described the naughty folk as: ‘Incredibly stupid and venal.’

It’s certainly an uncomfortable echo of the sleaze stories that kept coming out after John Major launched his ill-fated ‘back to basics’ campaign. Definitely another Whoops-a-Daisy moment.

Sunak is very cross about it, but fat lot of good it’ll do the cause, as the damage is already done. Much like the rather mealy-mouthed apology for his no-show at the big international D-day bash.

Something those two cockups have in common is that they’re not about boring facts and figures. Rather, they’re straightforward and visceral – and nastily pointy nails in the Tory coffin.

On top of that, they heavily underscore what’s become increasingly obvious since Sunak became PM. He may be good at doing his sums, but he’s rubbish at politics.

Not that he ever stood a chance. The Conservatives’ fourteen-year legacy of faltering living standards and crumbling public services has created a national mood of sullen resentment.

Closer analysis of the polling evidence bears this out, alongside the voters’ clear determination to get their own back.

This also helps explain the surge in support for Nigel Farage’s insurgent Reform Party. Populists tend to garner support among dispossessed and thoroughly fed up folk.

Certainly, there’s little sign that the nation’s fallen in love with super-sexy Sir Keir, or his super-spangly sort-the-country-out agenda.

But our system means masses of votes for the more charismatic Nige still won’t gift him anything beyond a handful at most of seats in parliament. Perhaps fewer than that after his apologia for Putin’s barbaric behaviour. Meaning Labour will have free rein.

For which reason it is perhaps worth a glance at what they’re offering us.

Forget the Tory taunt that all Starmer will do is bung up our taxes. The state of the nation’s finances mean we’re heading that way anyway, whoever wins, according to authoritative economists.

What he does have in mind, it seems, is a wholesale set of really quite radical and hopefully helpful reforms on a range of fronts.

His idea, for example. of diverting some of the NHS budget to the care sector could shorten queues for treatment, as fewer people will be stuck in hospital beds because there’s nowhere to send them.

And, boy, is there room for improvement on that front. It emerged last week that Britain is twenty years behind Europe on cancer care. No surprise this stuff’s playing big in the election.

But also no question the incoming government will be strapped for cash. Meaning magic wands, on Starmer’s own admission, are not about to be waved.

In the mid to longer term, however, the outlook could well be a good deal rosier under Labour.

That’s because Sir Keir’s pretty much bet the farm on boosting everyone’s living standards by growing the economy via private investment.

And there sure as hell is room for improvement, as a report from the Institute for Public Policy Research thinktank claims we currently come bottom among the G7 group of rich nations.

This matters, they argue, because companies splashing out on things like new factories, equipment and innovations means we do get to be better off.

Dr George Dibb, one of the outfit’s top bods, adds: ‘If the economy is an engine, then investment is its fuel. The UK’s dire productivity performance is the single biggest driver of our dire living standards.’

Yes, the organisation he works for does lean to the left politically, but what he’s saying does sound like common sense.

Assuming so, it all hangs on understandably cautious top bosses taking the bait Starmer’s offering. That will largely depends on whether they feel Britain is at last heading for a period of stability.

His punt is on their clocking that, after years of turbulence epitomised by so many Tory leaders in so little time, they’ll finally feel safe to put their money where their mouths are.

This strategy on Labour’s part has been long in the making, as the former Bank of England economist and almost certainly next Chancellor Rachel Reeves has been laying a lot of groundwork.

She’s been busy for years working the moneybags crowd, charming, soothing and reassuring these guys that their dosh is safe in Labour’s hands.

And, a straw in the wind but a timely one, she was particularly well received at a Times Chief Executive Officers’ summit last week.

According to the paper’s award-winning economics columnist Patrick Hosking: ‘Business leaders … left reassured that they could work with a victorious Labour government.

‘The overwhelming mood was that … a lengthy period of stability and consistent and predictable policymaking was essential after the shocks, U-turns and blunders of recent years.’

We can but hope that all this does translate, in time, into more pounds in our pockets.

Pretty obviously, even on the best-case scenario, it can’t happen overnight. Meaning it’ll be a race against time for folk to start feeling the benefit before disillusion sets in.

If that were to happen then Starmer’s honeymoon with the voters would ape the haunting description, coined by the novelist Stella Gibbons, of the life of a journalist.

It’d be: ‘Nasty, brutish, and short.’

Watch Peter’s report at

Peter Spencer has 40 years experience as a Political Correspondent in Westminster, working with London Broadcasting and Sky News. For more of his fascinating musings on the turbulent political landscape, follow him on Facebook & Twitter.

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